I was so stressed after watching Get Out I wanted to sit down with a relaxing cup of tea and a cigarette, but then I remembered the plot and had to settle for just the cup of tea. As a Brit I’m used to tea being the answer to pretty much everything, the balm that temporarily soothes a thousand injustices, from insignificant to world-shattering. Its gentle pick-me-up qualities give us just enough get-up-and-go, until the next cup of tea which is usually only a matter of minutes away. In fact if Get Out had been made in the UK, with all its tea imagery, Get Up And Go would have been the perfect title for it.
The film starts with another call to action, when a young black man is snatched off the street by someone in a sports car playing the extraordinarily creepy Run Rabbit Run. Andre Hayworth has inadvertently ended up in an upmarket area he doesn’t know and is on the phone to his girlfriend when he’s taken.
Jordan Peele’s horror reminded me of, weirdly, Arrival. Listen hard to the dialogue at the beginning as, although there are no aliens, by the end you’ll be looking at the initial scene-setting through, what, new eyes perhaps? And what seemed at the time like a throwaway line will turn out to be anything but. (“My mother loved her kitchen, we keep a piece of her in here now!” is not, sadly, about leaving a favourite Sunday hat on the windowsill in memory of a much loved grandma.)
Also I’m going to say straight off that if Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery) doesn’t get his own spin off movie after this, there is no justice in filmland. Rod is hilarious, and provides the necessary light relief in a horror comedy which is more horror than comedy, once white people like me in the audience have stopped squirm-laughing at the early awful liberal middle class casual racism displayed by Rose Armitage’s family and friends to her black boyfriend Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya). (Her father Dean would, we have it confirmed, as he drops this vignette randomly into another conversation entirely, have voted for Obama a third time if only he could; a family friend loves golf and “knew Tiger!”)
Rod is photographer Chris’s best friend, the one roped in to look after Chris’s dog when his mate heads off for the weekend to visit Rose’s parents on their large estate. He twigs far earlier than anyone else that something is up when young black men start going missing, though unfortunately his answer is both inaccurate and too accurate at the same time (they are “sex slaves, not just regular slaves!” he rather excitedly tells a group of incredulous black police detectives as he tries to get someone to help him find his friend). But he’s funny and resourceful, with a nose for things being not quite right, and Rod is one of those characters who you suspect could easily have ended up taking over the whole film.
Initially on arrival at her parents’ large estate Rose’s family seem like typical upper middle classes, with that confidence to constantly slightly cross boundaries (“we’re huggers!” says Dad as soon as they arrive, throwing himself at Chris without ever wondering if it’s ok) and constantly say things that are slightly inappropriate but nothing you can really put your finger on.
Missy (Catherine Keener), Rose’s mum, is a psychiatrist who specialises in hypnotism. Chris is a smoker and she offers to put him under to remove his craving, something he refuses. Dad Dean (Bradley Whitford) is a neurosurgeon, a man both too familiar with Chris and also keeping himself set apart to underline the gap he sees between them. Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) is vile – an unpredictable, spoilt manchild who quickly turns the atmosphere at the family dinner table on Chris and Rose’s first night from relaxed and friendly to something more sinister and febrile.
As Chris and Rose settle down for the weekend, he’s unsettled by this supposedly liberal family’s black servants, whose demeanour as well as status harks back to a more racist and deferential age – Georgina is their housekeeper and Walter their groundsman. Both are relatively young but sound far older.
Their visit coincides with the family’s annual summer party, held by Rose’s grandparents previously and now a continuing tradition. Local couples flock to the do, most of them middle aged and all of them white apart from one young black man, Logan, who appears to be married to a white woman 30 years older than him and whose demeanour is similar to Walter and Georgina’s. Dean and Missy and their friends use Chris to virtue signal their supposedly liberal credentials though the veneer gradually chips away – a monologue about the unwanted local wild deer in the woods uses language, where if you substituted the word “deer” with “blacks”, would sound like an all too common racist rant.
There is the odd plot-hole. Chris’s phone is never fully charged, yet everyone I know nowadays has at least one of those little portable phone chargers, as everyone’s iPhones now seem to run down within an hour or two. Leaving your phone charging in one place is becoming as retro as using a landline. And the scene involving the world’s longest handbag rummage would instantly be seen as unbelievable – I have the world’s most crap-filled handbag, including everything from one of the aforementioned portable phone chargers, a lock of my son’s hair, a sewing kit, an apple core, my white liberal credentials and, yes, another portable phone charger, but even I can find something within a couple of minutes even if I have to chuck everything out onto the floor to do it.
Is the title a rage-filled order or advice to run? As a movie experience it moves from simply being uncomfortable to watch as the privileged embarrass themselves and discomfit their guest, slowly unfolding as a psychological horror that then turns super-super-bloody – with death by so many upper middle class objects I was surprised no one was smothered with an inherited cream linen napkin.
Allison Williams and her “family” offer brilliantly creepy turns. Daniel Kaluuya puts in an astonishing performance as Chris who gradually realises this is about more than middle class liberal racist microaggressions.
Get Out is a brilliant piece of film making, tense and jarring. The pace is occasionally slightly uneven but for once this is a film over 90 minutes that doesn’t feel too long. There’s something very Stepford Wives about it – punishing those who don’t “know their place” but who are kept around to be useful, and as a woman I recognised Chris’s moving from sighing politeness to gaslighted reassurance to simply trusting his instinct that he has to do as the title implores.